Edwin M. Stanton

Edwin Stanton was born on December 19, 1814 in Steubenville, Ohio, to devout Methodist parents. After graduating from Kenyon College in 1833, he studied law under a judge. He was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1835, but had to wait several months until his 21st birthday before he could begin to practice. He developed a very successful legal career in Ohio, then Pittsburgh, and finally Washington, DC.

While in Ohio, Stanton became active in the local antislavery society and was elected Prosecuting Attorney of Harrison county as a Democrat. In 1857, he was appointed by U.S. Attorney General Jeremiah Black to represent the federal government in California land cases. Two years later, he was one of the attorneys defending Congressman Daniel Sickles, accused of murdering his wife’s lover. Stanton and his colleagues convinced the jury to acquit Sickles on the grounds of temporary insanity, marking one of the earliest uses of that plea.

After the 1860 presidential election, Stanton gave up a lucrative law practice to become Attorney General in the lame-duck presidential administration of James Buchanan. He advised Buchanan to act forcefully against the South, but when the president did not, Stanton clandestinely kept the Republicans, particularly William H. Seward, informed about White House policy decisions.

In 1862, after President Lincoln removed Simon Cameron, the corrupt and ineffective Secretary of War, by appointing him Minister to Russia, Seward and Salmon P. Chase encouraged Lincoln to name Stanton as his new Secretary of War. Stanton once again gave up a prosperous law practice to enter public service an showed himself to be a strong and effective cabinet officer, instituting practices to rid the War Department of waste and corruption.

When Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney died in October 1864, Stanton wanted to be named as his replacement. Lincoln believed, though, that he was more important to the Union cause as Secretary of War, so the President appointed Chase, instead.

Stanton was at the center of the battle to impeach and remove President Andrew Johnson from office. After Lincoln’s assassination, Stanton had continued to serve as Johnson’s Secretary of War. However, he became vehemently opposed to Johnson’s lenient Reconstruction policies, and worked with Republicans to implement Congressional Reconstruction in the South. After first suspending Stanton in August 1867, Johnson fired the Secretary in February 1868. Stanton refused to leave office, claiming job protection under the Tenure of Office Act. He locked himself in the War Department until the Senate voted against the President’s removal.

Stanton resigned in May 1868 and returned to his private practice. His wish to sit on the Supreme Court appeared to be fulfilled when Grant appointed him and the Senate confirmed him on the same day, 20 December 1868. He died, however, four days later.

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